Saturday, May 27, 2017

First nights in the Motorhome

Wow, this has been the start of a STEEP learning curve! We thought we knew about RV'ing based on our US experiences but we were in for a big surprise!

Nothing is the same except for the campers, who are, like their US cousins, pretty friendly and welcoming.

Immediately we found we'd been very spoiled in the US. The fact that we bought an RV which came completely equipped had us unprepared for one that came with nothing at all! We really appreciate how Mike and Lynne our Aussie friends felt when they bought their rig in Florida, even more so when we realized we had no tow vehicle so every time we wanted to go some where we had to take the whole thing with us. We seemed to be constantly going out to some local supermarket for bits and pieces. Still it was useful for getting me used to the size of the vehicle and the manual transmission.

One of the bad things we've found is that this rig has black water hookups like our US rig. The bad news is that campgrounds aren't set up for this and it may be impossible to use our toilet! Who knew!

Grey water here is just dump it into a drain, but you can't do that with the black water. Luckily the site we picked has a really nice bath house and we're parked feet from it so we can get by.

Of course this rig is TINY compared to our Rexhall. In fact I think this one would just about fit into the living room of the Rexhall. Every time one of us wants to move, the other one has to sit down to make room! The bed is a cab over type and climbing up the ladder is interesting, but nowhere near as interesting as getting down again!! Luckily the bed seems really comfortable and we have had no problems sleeping.

The campground is different too. Everyone tells us how nice this one is, and it IS nice, but there is NOTHING here except the bath house!! That and the nearest place to eat is a 1 mile walk away, there is no public transport nearby and the supermarket is 9 miles away, means a lot of sitting around the campground or a drive in the motorhome to find something.

Lucky the weather has been superb so far with sunny skies and temperatures in the 70's. Very unusual for May we're told, and people have started complaining about the heat!! Roll on 95 and 80% humidity in Florida!!

The motorhome (which I call the van) is small enough to fit in car sized parking spaces over here but hangs out a couple of feet on the end. So far we've been able to get where want to. Everywhere you stop you have to pay for parking including the supermarkets! If you buy more than $15 they will validate your parking. (All prices will be converted to US Dollars because my computer doesn't have the key for English Pounds or Euros!).

It is also a diesel. A turbo diesel yet! All 2000cc's of it. It has a 5 speed manual transmission which at times has me cursing like a sailor when I can't find 3rd or 5th. I am slowly getting the feel for it, but it's a little unusual as the gear shift sticks out of the dashboard. 

Being a manual (Stick Shift to our US friends) I have to remember my hill start techniques from when I drove over here 40 years back, For the non stick shift drivers, that entails finding the clutch bite point and using that to hold the vehicle as the parking brake is released. Rolling back a couple of feet as is the norm in the US is NOT the way here, The car behind will come right up to you bumper when you're stopped and there is no room for error.

And the gear shift is on the left, but on this van the parking brake is on the right!

We picked up the van on a Thursday and had reservations at the "Dulhorn Farm Holiday Park" about 20 miles South of where we picked it up. We picked the park based on it's closeness to the dealer and to the fact that we'd have to drive thru the major town of Weston Super Mare on the way, so we could go to the shops there and get the basics.

Luckily we knew the names of some UK stores that have sold camping gear since we were kids. Millets are nationwide here and we scouted out things like sleeping bags, pocket knives (which you can only buy in camping stores apparently), camping chairs etc. ASDA are the big supermarket chain and associated with Walmart apparently, so food, pots and pans, bedding came from there. We had to buy a gas bottle and electric cords, water hoses Sleeping bags, chairs and a few other things at an RV dealer along the way. (Called a Caravan Centre here) (No that's how center is spelled in Europe).

Eventually we had enough for the first couple of days while we "Shook Down" the rig and the rest of our gear.

Although the van was several hundred pounds heavier when we finished, our wallets were many thousands of pounds lighter, after we paid for the van, taxes, insurance and all the other stuff. I suppose that pun wouldn't have worked if the weight was in kilo's and the money in Euro's!!

So now we are staying in this park for 5 nights as this weekend is a long weekend for "Spring Bank Holiday" which is notorious for bad traffic. Sally our daughter called and said she'd like to meet up with us next week as the Grand Kids are off school for a week. We decided we'd move closer to them (they live about 200 miles North of here). We've joined the "Camping and Caravanning Club which gets us into their club campgrounds at discount rates and a campground book like Good Sam gives you. In fact thinking about it there are many similarities between the two.

I'd throw in some pictures to keep you all amused but the campground WiFi is too slow to let me do that!

Sunday, May 21, 2017


British Airways did an outstanding job getting us from Orlando to London Gatwick, It was so nice to be treated as welcome guests instead of cattle. The bags were free, so was the food. The in-flight entertainment I though was excellent and the seats were both roomy and comfortable. Who knew that flying could be enjoyable again?

We left Orlando at 5.00pm and arrived in Gatwick at 7.00am. We had snatches of sleep here and there but we were very jet lagged on arrival. customs and immigration were a breeze and we were soon walking from the air terminal to the rail terminal in the same building. a 40 minute wait went by quickly as we people watched and drank in the sounds of several different European languages being spoken by our fellow travelers.

The train took 90 minutes to reach Portsmouth on the South Coast of England, taking us through the rich green countryside. We were delighted to see all the sheep, something rarely seen in the parts of the US that we've been to. The spring lambs were running around having lots of fun.

In Portsmouth we took a cab to the rental car company. We have had many bad experiences with rental cars from London's airports and were determined to avoid another, plus taking the train was so much easier than driving the 100 or so miles when jet lagged.

My Aunt Sheila lives in Portsmouth and had kindly offered us the use of her spare bedroom. The Sat Nav (GPS) built into the rental car got us there without a hitch. Me driving the car on the left side of the road with the steering on the right and the stick shift on the left was slightly less straightforward, but I started to get the hang of it before long.
The Renault Cleo Rental Car
We spent the rest of the day recovering and eating Sheila's delicious food! 

Friday we all went for a walk along the sea front. Portsmouth was Britain's main Naval base from ancient times and the fortifications that protected the port are still there. Lord Nelson, the Royal Navy's most famous Admiral walked these very walls, and his flagship HMS Victory is preserved just across the harbor together with the Mary Rose, Henry the Eighth's warship that capsized and sank on its during a battle in the harbor. It was raised and preserved in one of the earliest underwater archaeological digs.

The harbor defenses at "The Point"

The harbor is a busy one, with many car ferries going to Spain and France and a nearby island named the Isle of Wight which sits in the entrance to the Solent river. Cruise ships, dredgers, survey ships and pleasure boats all wove their way out to sea too.

Even a hovercraft service to the Isle of Wight
We had been researching the purchase of an RV in the UK and a town named Weston Super Mare seemed to have several dealers, so on Saturday we drove the rental car there and started shopping. After a disappointing start at a dealer that looked good in their adverts we found another dealer close by that had several RV's in our price range. One in particular caught our eye. A Fiat Riviera. 

Not a good picture, more later!
This would be called a "C" class in the US, and a very small C Class too! But in the UK it's called a Motor Home and considered quite large, We liked it because it was fairly roomy, has a built in shower and bathroom, was diesel powered and most importantly was just a little over our nominal budget. 

Cab over bed of course
When we started talking with the salesman we mentioned that we would be selling it again in about 4 months and he immediately made us a written buy back offer that would mean the whole 4 months would only cost us 3,000 pounds. MUCH cheaper than renting one. The rig would also come safety inspected, road taxed, tested and certified as safe for habitation and for the gas system and have 3 month parts and labor warranty on the entire vehicle. SOLD!!

Easy come easy go they say, and after spending the night on the way back in Salisbury we spent Sunday morning exploring that city before driving back to Portsmouth and dinner out with Sheila and my cousins John, Liz and Helen plus their spouses.
I even fitted in a little drawing and painting too!!

Salisbury Cathedral


The City Gates

Half timbered buildings everywhere
So now we have to wait until Thursday to pick up the rig before we spend our first 5 nights camping in it while we buy all the things like crockery, cutlery, pots, pans, chairs, bedding that never come with a rig from a dealer. A reminder of how lucky we were when we bought the Rexhall from De 3 years ago and found that she was leaving all that stuff in it for us.

For a map of our travels so far see:

Sunday, May 14, 2017

When time slowed down

A hunting dynasty that included thoroughbreds, show jumping horses, polo ponies and hunting dogs of all shapes and sizes. Beautiful both inside and out but unfortunately they don't allow photography inside.

All in all a very busy couple of weeks.

We decided that since we did Interstate up to Tallahassee we would do side roads back and took FL 27 south. What an eye opener! We should have taken this road up, it's 4 lanes,no traffic, very few towns and shorter!! Duh....

We stopped at Homasossa for a couple of nights. Someone had told us what a great place it is, how the campground is wonderful etc, etc. 
If wine isn't the answer then don't ask the question
Needless to say we were disappointed and the campground was expensive (to our mind) for what as basically a weekend party resort for people from Orlando. 

We dropped by the Elks Lodge to unwind then moved a little closer to our final destination in Orlando. We decided to stay at the SKP's Sumter Oaks RV Park. As soon as we entered the office we met with somebody we knew from SKP's Chapter 57. Once set up we got invited over for a “Happy Hour” and lo and behold there were more Chapter 57 members and we were immediately at home and relaxed. You can't beat SKP's and/or Elks for a friendly welcome.
Chapter 57 Happy Hour

Party time
Laundry and sketching took up the following day and the evening was the night I was to be initiated at the Eagle Eerie in Oklahumpka. So now I'm an Eagle as well as an Elk!

Sumpter Oaks was quiet and getting quieter by the day as the Snow Birds left to go back north. Even the work campers left. Somebody mentioned there would only be 4 occupied rigs during the summer.

Sketch of Sumpter Oaks SKP Park

No need for binoculars when you bird watch here.
Barbara and I had the run of the place for the rest of the week. We discovered that the TV in the big activities center could get NBCSN so we watched the Russian Grand Prix on Friday, Saturday and Sunday to get our Formula 1 fix. Barbara got to watch Call the Midwife on PBS and we also caught up on Home Fires. Unfortunately the park has poor TV and phone connectivity so we couldn't watch our own TV (we don't have, nor do we want satellite TV). Luckily our phone booster system got us a good phone/internet connection and the activity center has a big library of books, magazines and DVD's so we got our movie fix too!

Pen and ink sketch of a 1940 Plymouth Woody Wagon
Thousand Trails in Orlando was like, well Thousand Trails! A very wide assortment of RV's from Mega Motor-homes to beat up trailers. It was very, very quiet without the snowbirds and winter family tourists. We had a quiet couple of weeks reading, watching TV, sketching and sorting out all the things we need to do before we fly out to UK.
I got to hang out with the creative people at the Leesburg Center for the Arts again

Cinco De Mayo party at LCA
I called my sisters and caught up with their news, messaged our friends to let them know we were on our way, searched the internet for motor-homes for sale in the UK, and finally decided that when we get to London we'll take the train to Portsmouth and stay with my Aunt Sheila for several days while we look for a camper van. We let her know and ordered a GPS to be delivered to her house. We have to remember to call it a “Sat Nav” because that's what they call them in UK. There will be a few new phrases we'll have to learn while we're over there.

Time dragged, we got on each others nerves, made excuses to go out shopping or for dinner just to get out of the campground. Waiting and anticipating are tough.

Boredom got the better of me so I got creative and invented a way to make “Solar Shades” for the RV windows. When it's stored down here in Orlando the daytime temperatures are going to be in the 90's every day and it's very humid too. To keep the heat down inside I got rolls of reflective insulation and cut them so they were 1” bigger than the inside of the window frames. That let me tuck them into the frames to retain them, no tape needed. And they seem to work. The next day the outside temperature was 95 but with one AC unit running it was 77 inside.

My home made "Solar Shades"
After we got to bed one night the phone started ringing but we ignored it. In the morning I looked and it was Mike and Lynne our Aussie friends. I called them back (Allowing for the 2 hour time difference!). It turns out they are in Calgary Alberta and the sun had come out! The rest of their Aussie friends are arriving over the next couple of days and they will then caravan around the area for several weeks. It was good catching up with their news and to have them catch up on ours. 

Maybe we'll meet up again next year.

Time was dragging, then we started packing our cases, prepping the rig for storage. 

Seems to be picking up speed again!